I love my Dell Mini 9 netbook, which I bought the first day they became available. It’s a great little piece of hardware the size of a hardback book, with enough computing power for me to run a full version of Linux, browse the web, read email and news, and do all of the little sit-on-the-couch-and-hack tasks I need. Plus, it never fails to impress the chicks. (I can’t even count the number of women who have told me it’s “so cute”.)

Yet netbooks are under attack lately, possibly because Google has finally released their Nexus One smartphone– which is without a doubt a handy little piece of work. There seems to be a growing consensus that netbooks are bulkier than smartphones, while also smaller and less capable than full laptops. They apparently occupy some middle ground that’s a dead space of computing. Either you should get a smartphone for low-end computing and super portability, or a laptop for mainstream computing and relative portability.

Regardless of these naysayers, I think netbooks fill a perfect niche. They sit between smartphones and laptops, and that’s exactly where they should be. I don’t want a phone with a keyboard so small I can hardly read the keys, much less tap them; at the same time I don’t want to lug around a five-pound laptop the size of a two-inch binder. I can walk into a meeting with my Mini 9 and take notes. I can’t do that (well) on a phone, and a laptop is too big and power-hungry.

So I was gratified to see other bloggers standing up for the maligned netbook, saying the really cool thing about them– which I hadn’t really considered– was that unlike smartphones, they’re not “tethered” to a carrier who subsidizes their cost and then locks you into a two-year contract. They’re more powerful but have the same incredible draw that smartphones do: in the words of Jeff Atwood, they provide “unlimited access to the complete sum of human knowledge, and free, unfettered communication with anyone on earth. For everyone.”

A couple hundred bucks and a wireless connection is all it takes to access books and articles about anything, and communicate almost instantly with people anywhere on earth. Who would have thought it possible ten years ago?

Long live the netbook.